San Francisco Silent Film Festival - Recapping the Festival Part I

The always glorious Castro Theater

Yes, it's Monday morning and time for this Cinderella to sweep the chimney and go back to work.  But my heart and head are still remembering and visualizing the delights of a wonderful weekend of cinema.

The festival this year had a lot of variety and my initial not-to-be-missed films and programs were : Tales From the Archives; The First Born; Tokyo Chorus; The Patsy; Winsor McKay His Life and Art; The Half Breed; Legong: Dance of the Virgins; Gribiche; The House on Trubnaya Square; and the local interest film The Last Edition.

I missed a few more films than I had intended, but, juggling lunches/dinners and getting back to the Castro proved to be a bit of a problem.  I think next year I will come with a brown-bag lunch and just plant myself.  J

Due to a hectic workday on opening night (so I could get the Friday off) I was too tired to make it to the opening film, Louise Brooks in the silent version of Prix de Beaute.  I have it on good authority that is was wonderful and far superior to the sound version. The screening was a digital projection.

SFSFF Board President Rob Byrne giving his presentation on the restoration of The Half Breed
I showed up bright and early for a feature I always enjoy, the Tales from the Archives which features informative slideshows/clips and talks by archivists and film restoration experts.  This year we were treated, in every sense of the word with an appearance by SFSFF Board President Rob Byrne discussing the trials and tribulations of restoring Douglas Fairbanks’ 1916 feature The Half Breed.  I wish I could illustrate how entertaining this portion of the program is, especially in Rob’s hands.  He’s a charmer, engaging speaker and very, very funny.  That he knows his stuff is more than obvious, but, seeing first hand with his examples and clips what hoops had to be gone through to track down the existing portions of the film, the continuity and sift through the State’s Rights issues, well, it’s a wonder that this was completed as successfully as it was.  What a puzzle to put together.  Rob really knew why we were there, we were treated to the famous (infamous) clips of a practically bare-ass nekkid Doug from four different sources.  I’m amazed that with the censors at state levels, this particular clip survived in all the source prints used for the restoration.
Celine Ruivo narrating her presentation on Le Phono-Cinema Theatre
Second on the program was Céline Ruivo Director of Film Collections at the Cinémateque Française who spoke and presented about her current project which is the restoration of the films of the Phono-Cinéma Théâtre from the Paris Exposition of 1900.  Let me say, this was a fascinating glimpse through a window of a time that has been nearly forgotten, entertainers of the Belle Epoque.  As she described and illustrated the process of the restoration, I could not help but be amazed at the miracle (and it is a true miracle) that the films not only survived, the sound cylinders survived and preserved by a collector, Henri Chamoux (and all but two cylinders have been located).  That the materials survived, for starters, two world wars, a conflagration if ever there were one, miraculous.  That I got to see and hear one, miraculous.  Ms. Ruivo only screened, sadly, only one complete, restored film.  It was expertly synched by modern technology into a film that was utterly enchanting and magical.  It made me long to see more, and I hope with the happy relationship between the SFSFF and the Cinémateque Française, we will be treated to an entire program of similar enchantments.  To see more about this fascinating project, please hit the Cinemateque’s website.

As you can see I rather geeked out over this, but this really is one of my favorite educational aspects of the festival that reflects their commitment to preservation, restoration and screening of all kinds of films.

Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll in The First Born

The first film for me of the weekend was the 1928 film directed and starring Miles Mander, The First Born with the expert musical accompaniment of Stephen Horne.  The cast included Madeleine Carroll (a natural brunette here), John Loder (what a hottie he was in 1928), Margot Armand, Ellat Atherton, and Ivo Dawson.  The film boasts a scenario by Miles Mander and Alma Reville (Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock).  The print was gorgeous 35mm, tinted and toned sourced from the BFI (BFI link)

According to the program this was the directorial debut of actor, writer, and producer Miles Mander.  It was also adapted from his own novel and play.  He gave himself a pretty good part, what a stinker Sir Hugo was!  What Madeleine Carroll saw in him was anyone’s guess.  John Loder plays another long suffering suitor to Miss Carroll.  You’ll remember him from Hitchcock’s 1936 film Sabotage and as the rather stuffy suitor to Bette Davis in Now Voyager.  I’m not going to give the plot away, but Sir Hugo has the very best death in film, literally falling to his death in an elevator shaft.  Not content to let him fall to his not entirely untimely demise, he gets the coup de grace from an elevator car landing on top of him.  In the center of this gruesome death is a bit of hilarity that was rather brilliant and will remain an unforgetable image.  If you get a chance to see this film, particularly with Stephen Horne playing for it, do not miss it!  It’s a corker!

Hideo Sugawara (left) and Tokihiko Okada in Tokyo Chorus
Next up was Yasujiro Ozu’s “family flm” Tokyo Chorus.  Like China and many other nations, Japan was still producing silent films well into the 1930s.  This is one of them.  it is a small, quiet film and powerful film.  I was told not to miss it and I was supremely happy I didn’t.  The moving, simple and minimalist film was ably supported by Günter Buchwald.  It touched me in ways I had not expected and in the end I was craving curry rice like you would not believe.  If you’ve seen it, you will get my feeble attempt at a joke. 

Marion Davies in The Patsy

My final film of the day was the new to me Marion Davies comedy, The Patsy.  This 1928 comedy was directed by King Vidor and photographed by the legendary cameraman John Seitz.  The print origin was Marion Davies’ own that is now held at the Library of Congress.  Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra provided delightful and hilarious musical accompaniment. 

I was really unaware I had not seen this film.  It was crafted beautifully to showcase the talents of Marion Davies (so ill served by history and legend). She was a terrific comedienne and a wickedly funny mimic.  All that being said, she also was quite capable of tender, sensitive portrayals, in this as the younger sister who is not favored by her mother (hilarious Marie Dressler) but doted on by her father (always wonderful Dell Henderson).  I had only seen the clips of Davies mimicking Lillian Gish from this (and spot on hilarious it was, too) to see the sequences in context, Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri, if I could have fallen on the floor laughing, I would have.  I've loved Vidor's Show People as the best of Marion Davies.  After The Patsy I've revised my assessment and this is now my favorite of her silents. 

Regretfully, I skipped The Golden Clown which was described as clown noir.  This means I will have to seek it out.

This was my day 1, to be continued. . .


Penfold said…
For Klovnen, direct from the Danish Film Institute, go half way down this page.....
rudyfan1926 said…
Thank you Penfold!
Greta de Groat said…
I've seen both versions of Prix de Beaute and agree that the silent is superior--except for the final scene,which screams out for sound and is managed beautifully. I think Brownlow included it in Cinema Europe.

The curried rice is fine as long as it doesn't have bugs in it!

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